Honors Theses and Capstones

Graph theory analysis of induced neural plasticity post- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for chronic pain

Sarah K. Meier, University of New Hampshire, Durham


Chronic musculoskeletal pain affects the lives of over 100 million individuals in the United States making it the nation’s number one disability-causing condition (Institute of Medicine, 2011). Chronic pain leads to functional changes within the brains of those suffering from the condition. Not only does the pain network transform as acute pains become persistent, a state of hyperconnectivity also exists between the default mode, frontoparietal, and salience networks. Through behavioral assessment and graph theory analysis, the current study investigates how Acceptance and Commitment Therapy alleviates this functional hyperconnectivity. Results indicate that this treatment reduces the pre-existing hyperconnectivity between the default mode, frontoparietal, and salience network as well as within the salience network. Regions involved in functional alterations include the cingulate cortex, frontal gyrus, and angular gyrus. These reductions occur even without alterations to the pain network. Mindfulness, satisfaction with social roles, pain severity, and depression scores were all improved in conjunction with the induced neural plasticity after Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. The results from the current study indicate novel regions and important behavioral assessments that should be used in future, larger scale studies regarding alternative treatments for chronic pain.